The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that William Hodges “was born in London on 28 October, 1744, the only child of Charles Hodges, a blacksmith who owned a shop in St James's Market, and his wife, Ann, née Richards, sister of the curate of St Sepulchre at Newgate”.1
This information is accepted as fact and repeated in most works that provide a biography for Hodges. However, the first name of Hodges’s father is a problem, as is the time and place of William’s birth. Also, Ann Richards married Thomas, not Charles Hodges on 6 February, 1743, at St. Giles, Cripplegate in London.
A William Hodges is recorded as having been born on 28 October, 1744, and baptised on 20 November 1744 at St. James, Westminster, the son of Charles and Ann Hodges. However, further checking of the records shows that Charles Hodges married Ann Sewell on 2 March, 1742, at the same church, St. James, Westminster. I believe, therefore, that this William Hodges is a different man.
To gain some clarity it is necessary to work backwards.
Ann Hodges, William’s mother died in 1806. It is accepted that she had lived in Tunbridge Wells in Kent for some years, where she had looked after William’s illegitimate son, James, who had been born in India. Ann Hodges, widow of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, wrote her will on 30 November, 1797, shortly after William Hodges’s death. In it she put, “Bequeath unto each every of my grandchildren the son and daughters children of my late deceased son William Hodges”.2
An executor for her will was Samuel Pepys Cockerell, an architect who designed a house for Warren Hastings with whom William Hodges had been friendly. She also made reference to her brother, the Reverend Thomas Richards, the vicar at St. Sepulchre in London. Thomas Richards had died in 1798, between Ann Hodges writing her will and her death. In his own will, written June 1793 he stated, “Bequeath to my sister Ann Hodges of Tunbridge Wells in the County of Kent fifty pounds… I give to each of the children of my Nephew William Hodges fifty pounds”.3
It is now necessary to consider Thomas Richards and his life. He was born in Cardigan in 1717, and attended Oxford University briefly before becoming one of John Wesley’s first followers and an early Methodist around 1740. Thomas Richards was based for some time in Derby, which, I believe, explains why William Hodges moved to Derby to continue his artistic career in the early 1770s, having family contacts there. Richards would later leave the Methodists and become an Anglican minister.
In a marriage allegation for William Hodges and Martha Nesbitt at St. George’s Hanover Square, London, dated 10 May, 1776, Hodges is listed as being 31 years old, thus indicating a birth year of 1745. That there is no birth record for a William Hodges for that year may be explained by the family connection to Methodism. Ann may have been persuaded by her brother to become a Methodist and, while she had married Thomas Hodges in an Anglican church, their child was baptised as a Methodist. Non-Conformist records are much more difficult to trace if they even still exist at all.
The last part of my argument is, I accept, somewhat tenuous, but I feel is less so than the traditional line with Charles Hodges as father.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 46, volume 38, number 1 (2015).
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